Baseball – From Pitcher to Just Another Fielder

By George Demetriou

Under the NCAA DH rule, the pitcher is not considered to be a defensive position for substitution purposes (7-2b Note). But regardless of the level of play, a pitcher with fielding skills can be a very important asset to a team.

Certain rules treat the pitcher as a unique player — the pitcher. Others treat the pitcher as a fielder. Except where noted, the material applies equally to NFHS, NCAA and pro rules.

Pickoffs. Perhaps the most elementary distinction between the two roles of the pitcher is the pickoff attempt. A throw by the pitcher from a pitching position, while on the rubber, that passes over a fence or into the stands or other dead-ball area results in a one-base award. It does not matter if the ball goes directly out of play or is deflected by a fielder (NFHS 8-3-3d; NCAA 8-3k; pro 7.05h). The award also applies if the ball is pitched.

However, if the pitcher disengages the rubber before attempting to pick off a runner, he has acted as an infielder. If his throw goes into dead-ball territory, the runner is awarded two bases — the same as if the throw was made by any other infielder (NFHS 8-3-5b; NCAA 8-3o AR 1; pro 7.05g).

Interference by a runner with a batted ball. Under that rule, the pitcher is treated both as a pitcher and as an infielder. If a runner is hit by a fair batted ball that has touched an infielder (pitcher included) before it touches the runner, there is no interference. The ball remains live and the subsequent play stands.

However, if the runner is hit by a fair batted ball before having passed an infielder other than the pitcher, interference is called. The runner is out and the batter is awarded first base (NFHS 8-4-2k; NCAA 6-1i, 6-2f AR, 8-2f, 8-2g; pro 7.09m).

Play 1: With R1 on first, B5 hits a sharp grounder that deflects off F1’s leg and hits R1 between first and second. Ruling 1: The ball remains live and in play. Unless R1 intentionally interferes, he is not out for being hit by a deflected ball.

Play 2: R1 and R2 are moving on the pitch when B7 dribbles one slowly past the pitcher. As R1 begins his slide into second, the batted ball hits him. At the time R1 is hit, R2 has already touched third. Ruling 2: Since R1 was hit by a batted ball, he is out for interference. The ball passed F1 but did not touch him. B1 remains on first and is credited with a base hit. In NFHS, R2 keeps third; runners are returned to the base occupied at the time of interference (8-2-9). In NCAA and pro, R2 is returned to second; no runner can advance (NCAA 2-50 AR 2, 6-2e, 8-5k; pro 7.08f).

Obstruction. Although it is rare, a pitcher can commit obstruction. When the pitcher obstructs the batter-runner before reaching first base, the base awards depend on the ball the batter hit. If the batter hits a line drive to the infield or a fly ball anywhere and the ball is caught, the obstruction is ignored and the play stands. If the batter hits a ground ball, the obstruction is relevant and the penalty is a minimum award of first base in all codes.

Intentionally dropped ball. The pitcher is treated as an infielder when he intentionally drops a ball. The rule is designed to prevent an undeserved double play. With less than two out and at least a runner on first (first; first and second; first and third, or bases loaded), the ball is dead when it is intentionally dropped and runners return to the base occupied at the time of the pitch (NFHS 8-4-1c; NCAA 7-11q; pro 6.05L).

Play 3: With runners on first and second and one out, B1 bunts the ball. F1 catches the ball in flight, deliberately drops it and then fires to the shortstop covering third. The throw is wild, and the ball rolls into left field. Before it is returned to the infield, R2 has scored, R1 is on third and B1 has taken second. Ruling 3: The ball is immediately dead when F1 intentionally drops it. B1 is out and the runners return.

Play 4: With a runner on first and one out, B1 bunts the ball in the air. F1 yells, “I got it,” and as the ball is about to fall into his glove, he separates his hands and lets the ball fall to the ground untouched. He immediately retrieves the ball and fires to second to start a double play. Ruling 4: That is a legal play because F1 did not touch the ball until after it hit the ground. Thus he did not “drop” it.

Infield fly. The pitcher is also treated as an infielder for purposes of the infield fly rule. The pitcher, catcher and any outfielder who stations himself in the infield on the play are considered infielders for the purpose of the rule.

George Demetriou, a resident of Colorado Springs, is a veteran high school umpire and the current NFHS rule interpreter for the state of Colorado.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 01/13 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Football – Stay Away From the Mechanics Buffet

Stick to the Manuals to Ensure Consistency


By Jon Bible

Over the years I’ve seen and worked with officials who seem to think that mechanics manuals are like buffet lines — chock full of items to be chosen or ignored as the consumer sees fit. The attitude that they know the one “true” way and will follow it regardless of what the prescribed mechanics require afflicts veterans more than younger officials, but some of the latter group are also guilty. And, lest I come across as holierthan- thou, I will own up to some freelancing on occasion.

I submit, however, that approach is wrong for several reasons. While we may disagree with the mechanics that our league or conference has adopted, it is incumbent on all of us to adhere to them. We can go through channels to try to get them changed to reflect our notions of how the field should be covered and how crew members should interact, but if we are unsuccessful we should bite the bulletand go along.

Having been involved in developing mechanics in different sports and levels, I’d first like to make a point. Although sometimes drafters either are empowered to promulgate mechanics that reflect their own views or are in agreement about what they produce, the more likely scenario is that they were faced with conflicting views on particular points and, in the interest of uniformity, had to arrive at a compromise.

The bottom line is that if you believe a mechanic is unworkable or just plain stupid, chances are that some people involved in its drafting felt the same way. Either another group succeeded in securing enough votes to get it adopted, or the mechanic was really favored by virtually no one and instead was the product of a last-ditch effort at compromise. All the same, it is what it is, as they say, and we need to adhere to the mechanic unless it is changed. To do otherwise can produce unfortunate consequences.

One problem with deviating from the mechanics manual is that it can lead to even more inconsistency in onfield calls by the officials who are governed by that manual than would otherwise be the case. If, for example, my crew and I took it upon ourselves to adhere to an old mechanic because we thought a new one was faulty, it would be reasonable to expect that, over the course of the season, our number of calls for related plays would be somewhat, and perhaps significantly, different from other crews’ numbers. Some members of my crew would have different looks at the players’ actions than they would have had if they used the mechanic everyone else was using.

A crew at the BCS level is, of course, not going to deviate from the prescribed mechanic so blatantly because we’d have our rear ends handed to us on a platter if we did. But I know that a high school or lower level crew might do so because I’ve seen it done. It reflects badly on a league or association to have significant differences in the number of fouls called from crew to crew, and to have crews handling the same situation differently from a mechanical standpoint can only exacerbate the problem.

Mechanics mavericks also cause problems for other members of the crew in a game who might be used to doing things the proper way. It is very disconcerting, for example, for me as a referee to be used to my umpire doing things a particular way, and then, on a given Saturday, to have a different umpire who dances to his own tune. Even if a crew stays together all year and perhaps for several years, there may be occasions when a member has to be replaced for one or two games due to illness or work conflicts, and if that crew has decided to go its own way mechanically, chaos can ensue when the replacement joins them. Adjusting can be especially difficult for younger officials who have enough on their hands to master what the prescribed manual says without having to deal with the new twist that the maverick brings to the table. For a crew to function well, it has to be able to cover plays and to have its members interrelate automatically, without having to constantly think about what the other members are going to do in a given situation, and that can’t happen when freelancing occurs.

Then there is the “copycat” syndrome. If one crew or individual deviates from the mechanics manual and word gets around that has been done and has brought on no repercussions, others will infer that they are free to do the same thing. The next thing you know there will be several different crews or officials striking out on their own, thus destroying any semblance of consistency within that group.

I’ve also seen the freelancing approach backfire on a crew because of the expectations of coaches. If their lives depended on it, the average coach could not stand before a group and intelligently discuss where the umpire or back judge is supposed to be, and who he is supposed to watch, in particular play situations.

But on the field, most do have a sense of what the answer should be. If, week to week, every crew but one covers kickoffs or formations with triple receivers the same way, or one member of a crew that otherwise adheres to the mechanics manual does things differently, the deviating crew or member will stand out. If something happens on the play that the coach doesn’t like, the perception that the crew or official is out of position or is simply doing their own thing will only give the coach more fuel to add to his already burning fire.

For obvious reasons, the freelancing approach can also bite us in the backside if there is an observer or officials’ scout in the stands who knows how plays are supposed to be worked and can easily spot a deviation by the crew or by an official in the crew. Having been a supervisor for many years, I can guarantee that the perception that a crew or crew member is “going it alone” is not calculated to result in kudos or in career advancement.

A word about officiating clinics and camps, of which, as the late sportscaster Howard Cosell might say, there are now a veritable plethora. I’ve attended and been an instructor at some of those camps, and I know that many offer a great deal of valuable information. The ones that feature NFL and top college officials can be especially good in many different ways, among them the ability of those officials to enlighten the campers as to philosophy and to the subtle tricks that they’ve learned over the years to increase their chances of getting plays right.

The problem is that sometimes the information about field coverage or position mechanics that is imparted at those clinics is inconsistent with the proscribed mechanics in a particular conference, league, association or state. On more than one occasion I’ve heard of campers who took what they learned at a camp, applied it on the field when they got back home and got reamed by an observer because it was inconsistent with the local mechanics.

At the end of the day, my advice is that it is good to absorb what the top officials tell you at those camps and to file it in your memory bank for possible future use. But when you get home, do what you’re supposed to do. It may well be that what you learned at the camp is better, but the best approach is to try to convince the powers-that-be in your area that is the case. Sometimes those who write mechanics are open to new suggestions and willing to adapt, but there are also those who don’t want any part of what the NFL or major conferences do, or have a vested interest in a mechanic because they wrote it or things have always been done that way. So they will stick with a mechanic come hell or high water for that reason alone. Officials need to understand and recognize that, despite all of the great new stuff that they may have learned at a camp, when they are home they need to go along to get along. Their careers can easily be stalled or even killed if they decide to dance to their own tune.

Most officials have healthy egos, and the longer we work, the greater the tendency is to think that we know best how particular play situations should be handled. However, in the interest of uniformity, among other things, the best approach is for us to check our egos at the locker room door and do things “by the book.” We can cause many problems for ourselves, our crews and the other crews in our league or association if we don’t.

Jon Bible is a veteran football official from Austin, Texas. He is a referee in the Big 12 Conference and worked the 2008 BCS national championship game.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 07/08 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Basketball – Halfway Home: ‘Let’s Talk’

Imagine that the buzzer to end the first half has just sounded. The game is going to be a real barnburner. The teams are tied at halftime and there is no sign of either team gaining an advantage any time soon. The gym is filled with spectators, and the atmosphere is electric. You can’t wait to start the second half. Now imagine another scenario. The buzzer to end the first half has just sounded. The spread is 20 points at halftime, and the score is much closer than the action on the court suggests. Few fans occupy the seats; most of them seem to be more interested in the concession stand than the game. It could be a long second half.

Undoubtedly you have officiated both types of games. While those two games may seem worlds apart, the fact is that they are not. Both games have one thing in common — the success or failure of the officiating crew depends on what happens in the officials’ locker room during the halftime conference and on the court in the second half.

Every official learns the importance of the pregame conference as one of the foundations of successful officiating. There are even laminated cards that organize all of the items to be addressed in the pregame conference. Postgame analysis receives similar emphasis. Videotape and postgame breakdowns have become very valuable tools to officials.

With the emphasis on pregame and postgame in officiating, one critical point is sometimes overlooked — halftime. While it may be brief, halftime is a crucial point for officials. At halftime, officials are given the opportunity to communicate in the privacy of the locker room and take time to discuss the events of the first half. The officials can also use that time to refocus and concentrate on making the second half of the game even better. How many times have you heard before taking the court, “That was the easy half.”

While there are many things a crew may cover at halftime, three topics should always come up:

1. What plays stood out in the first half? Were those plays handled correctly, or could they be improved upon? Perhaps there was a block/charge call that was very close or a three-point attempt that could have been more effectively covered. (Officials in the professional leagues even have the technology to watch a play from the previous half right there in the lockerroom.) Discuss the type of offenses involved and how those might affect crew positioning. Understand the defenses being used and how those might relate to the tempo of the game. Halftime is a great time to discuss plays. It is not, however, a time for argument. Any discussion that isn’t positioned in helping the crew improve should be eliminated. Save it for after the game.

2. Are there any players or coaches that deserve attention in the second half? Perhaps one of the crew members has spoken to a coach or a player about something, but hasn’t had the chance to tell the rest of the crew. Now is the time to do it. If there is a particular match-up between players that is closely contested, the crew should be aware of it for the second half. Talk about the demeanor of the players and coaches, how it may change and how the crew will handle such a situation.

3. What might the second half hold in store? If the game is close, and you expect a barnburner, make sure everyone in the crew stays focused and reviews rules regarding overtime. Games in which the margin is larger require particular focus and attention. The crew should discuss what is expected in the second half and make sure that everyone is focused and prepared.

Don’t let a well-timed cheap shot catch your crew offguard in the waning moments of a blowout.

If a crew can thoroughly cover at least those three topics in their halftime conference, the chance for success in the game increases greatly. Hopefully, the crew held a thorough pregame, and will do the necessary postgame analysis as well. A thorough halftime conference, however, is the best chance a crew has to address issues during the game, when it may matter most.

Written by Daniel Rothamel, Palmyra, Va., who officiates high school and college basketball.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 04/07 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Softball – Wait a Second


Pitching Pause Among 2017 NFHS Points of Emphasis

By Todd Korth

It has become common for players to wear wristbands that include play calls, color coded into different sections with many combinations. They have replaced signs for better accuracy and it has become commonplace in the game, but the wristbands have brought some unintended consequences, especially with pitchers.

Quite often a pitcher will look to a coach for the type of pitch to throw, listen for the number, then look to the wristband for the type of pitch. With the pitch in mind, the pitcher at times will then step onto the pitching plate and immediately go into her windup before firing off the pitch. While pitchers will pause to communicate with a coach off of the pitching plate, they don’t often pause once on the pitching plate, and that has become a problem across the country.

To combat that problem, NFHS has made it a point of emphasis for the 2017 season that umpires enforce the rule that pitchers take and/or simulate taking a signal while on the pitcher’s plate. Two other points of emphasis include the use of glitter or reflective materials on hair control devices and educating umpires on the key points of the DP/FLEX option.

Taking the signal. When the pitcher does not pause after stepping onto the plate to take or simulate taking a signal from the catcher, it is known as “stepping into the pitch” and is not only illegal but can be dangerous to an unsuspecting batter. That rule protects the batter. The pause indicates that the pitcher is ready to throw the ball.

There are specific requirements for the placement of the pitcher’s feet in each code, so call an illegal pitch if those rules are violated. In ASA, NCAA and USSSA, the non-pivot foot must remain in contact with the plate. If a right-handed pitcher places only her right foot on the pitcher’s plate, looks to the catcher for a signal and then moves her left foot forward and contacts the rubber, it is illegal in ASA, NCAA or USSSA, but not in NFHS. ASA, NCAA and USSSA require that the pitcher must take or simulate taking her signal while both feet are on the rubber. Non-compliance in those codes results in an illegal pitch.

In NFHS, even if the pitcher takes the actual signal behind and not in contact with the pitcher’s plate she must comply to that section of the rule by simulating taking the signal from the catcher once she is on the pitcher’s plate with her hands still separated. Then the pitcher must bring the hands together in front of the body for not less than one second and not more than 10 seconds before releasing the ball. The hands may be motionless or moving.

Rule 6-1-1 states that the pitcher shall take a position with the pivot foot on or partially on the top surface of the pitcher’s plate and the non-pivot foot in contact with or behind the pitcher’s plate. Both feet must be on the ground within or partially within the 24-inch length of the pitcher’s plate. Once the hands are brought together and are in motion, the pitcher shall not take more than one step, which must be forward, toward the batter and simultaneous with the delivery.

Any step backward shall begin before the hands come together. The step backward may end before or after the hands come together.

NFHS’s pitching rule supports a wide range of pitching styles by allowing a pitcher to start with both feet on the pitcher’s plate, one foot on and one foot behind or to step backward as a part of their pitching motion. The NFHS Softball Rules Committee feels the pitching rule, as written, allows players the greatest opportunity to pitch at the high school level.

The plate umpire is generally responsible for watching the pitcher’s hands and if she stays inside the width of the pitching chute. The base umpire(s) is mainly responsible for watching the pitcher’s feet.

Uniforms. The rules committee discussed concerns about the use of glitter or reflective materials on hair control devices. Coaches and players are reminded that a uniform shall not have any reflective adornments. Reflective materials on ribbons, bows and headbands, including glitter and rhinestones, are considered illegal and should not be permitted.

A headband made of elastic material that is designed to be tied in the back is not considered a bandanna, and is legal if it meets the color and manufacturers logo restrictions.

DP/FLEX reminders. The rules committee is asking coaches and umpires to be familiar with rules regarding the DP/FLEX. The following are key points to know regarding the rule.

• The DP can never play defense only.

• The FLEX can never be on offense only.

• The FLEX and DP can never play offense at the same time. The FLEX and DP positions are linked by the DP/FLEX rule. If the FLEX is going to play offense, she has to do it in the original DP’s position; therefore only one of them can play offense at a time. 

• The FLEX and DP can play defense at the same time. The DP can play defense for any player other than the FLEX and no one has left the game.

• The starting DP and starting FLEX each have one re-entry just like all other starters.

• Once the game is started with the DP/FLEX positions in the lineup those positions are available for the entire game. Even if the starting DP or starting FLEX has left the game a second time, the position is still available and an eligible substitute can enter the game as the FLEX or DP. So even though the starting player(s) left the game twice and cannot re-enter, their position(s) is/are still active as long as the team has eligible substitutes.

Todd Korth is a Referee associate editor and multi-sport official, including high school and college softball.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 11/16 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Soccer – Don’t Flag Referee’s Back

“When do I help my partner?” That question comes up often when you are running the line and wanting to do a good job. Advice to Referees 6.3 offers these thoughts: “Assistant referees should not signal at all for fouls or misconduct that clearly occur in the sight of the referee, that are doubtful or trifling, or for which the referee would likely have applied advantage. Assistant referees may, however, bring such events to the attention of the referee at a stoppage of play.” Sometimes newer assistants make the mistake shown in the PlayPic. They see an incident and know it is not a trifling foul. Without making eye contact with the referee, they raise the flag as the referee turns to follow the ball — they have flagged the referee’s back. As a rule of thumb, if you raise the flag because you saw misconduct (you would recommend the referee give a card of either color), keep the flag up. The other assistant will see your flag, raise his or her flag and point to you. If you raised the flag for a foul that was not misconduct, many referees would suggest in their pregame discussion, lower the flag. Tell the referee at the next convenient stoppage.


Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 02/07 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Baseball – When Is The Outfield In?


MLB Playoff Situation Shows Intricacies of Infield Fly Rule

By Jon Bible

In an October NL wild card game between Atlanta and St. Louis, umpire Sam Holbrook, working the left-field line as part of a six-man crew, made one of the most controversial calls in recent memory.

With Atlanta trailing, 6-3, in the eighth inning, there was one out and runners on first and second. Andrelton Simmons hit a fly ball to short left field that fell between St. Louis shortstop Pete Kozma and left fielder Matt Holliday after a mix-up over who would catch the ball.

When the ball was hit, Kozma chased it at about a 45-degree angle toward the left-field foul pole, but he retreated a few steps toward the infield as Holliday came running in. With each hesitating, fearful of interfering with the other’s opportunity to catch the ball, it dropped several feet behind Kozma and in front of Holliday.

When the ball was just above Kozma’s head, Holbrook signaled Simmons was out because of the infield fly rule. Instead of Atlanta having the bases loaded with one out, the Braves ended up with runners on second and third with two out.

A 19-minute delay ensued as fans littered the field with cups, bottles and other trash, and eventually the Cardinals went on to a 6-3 win. Within seconds of the call, cyberspace was aflame with tweets and blog postings from irate fans, sportswriters and the like, all proclaiming that Holbrook was guilty of horrible judgment. But was he?

The rule, which is consistent at all levels of baseball from professional on down, provides that an infield fly is a fair fly ball, not including a line drive or an attempted bunt, that can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort when first and second or first, second and third bases are occupied with less than two out.

The pitcher, catcher and any outfielder that stations himself in the infield on the play are considered infielders for purposes of the rule.

Although the rule has read the same way since the Dark Ages when I played and began umpiring, I realized that I may not be up on all of the current thinking, especially at the professional level (it has only been 39 years since I worked pro ball), so I consulted with a young Austin umpire, Will Thornewell, who worked in Double-A in 2012.

He told me what the professional philosophy is and because the NCAA and NFHS rules are the same as the pro rule it logically follows that the pro philosophy should apply at those levels as well.

The key words in the rule are “caught with ordinary effort.” A widespread misconception among managers, coaches, players and even umpires, is that a fielder must be camped under the ball for the rule to apply.

Not true.

An infielder who goes into the outfield, whether facing the outfield or infield as he does, can position himself to catch the ball with ordinary effort even if he is 20-30 feet behind the infield cut. That is especially true at the higher levels where the infielders are so speedy and have such amazing range.

Some people also do not understand that the rule can apply to outfielders. If, for example, a left fielder ends up catching, or being in position to catch, a ball that could have been caught by a shortstop or third baseman with ordinary effort, the rule is in effect.

The video clip of the Holbrook play makes it clear that before he moved back toward the infield as Holliday closed in, Kozma was in precisely the spot where the ball fell.

In my judgment, Kozma could have caught the ball with ordinary effort had he stayed there and not retreated. Holbrook was right.

The wind must also play a role in deciding whether to call an infield fly. If it is windy and the ball is hit high in the air, an umpire should wait a second or two longer than he usually would to make his decision. If fielders were scrambling everywhere, it would not be an infield fly, because the catch could not be made with ordinary effort. The key question is whether the infielder is in control of himself; if he is, he probably can make the catch with ordinary effort, but if he isn’t, he can’t.

Hall of Fame umpire Bill Klem had an interesting play in the early part of the 20th century. With the wind blowing a gale, a ball was hit high in the infield, causing the fielders to look like the Keystone Kops in trying to get a bead on it. It eventually hit the ground just behind the infield dirt, and Klem refused to invoke the rule because, as he later said, there was no way anyone was going to catch that ball with ordinary effort, given the conditions.

In the Holbrook play, it is obvious that Kozma was in control of himself as he was calling Holliday off. It’s not the umpire’s fault that poor communication between Kozma and Holliday resulted in Kozma retreating toward the infield and the ball falling between the two.

Many forget that the purpose of the rule is to prevent the defense from turning an undeserved double play by letting the ball fall. While not likely in the play in that game because of the location of the runners and the fielder, that is often what could happen on a more ordinary infield fly. A crafty infielder and quick action by his teammates could result in a double play, especially if one or more of the runners are slow.

Holbrook also caught flak for delaying his call until the last second, but an umpire often has to do that — or should — because it may only be belatedly that he reads the actions of the fielders and the location of the ball and concludes that the ordinary effort criterion was satisfied.

Given where runners need to be to be able to return to their base safely if the ball is caught, a delayed call should not negatively affect the offense. What difference does it make if the call is made early or late? Either way the runners are going to be in essentially the same position — far enough off the base to hopefully be able to get to the next base safely if the ball is not caught, but close enough to get back if the ball is caught and the fielder throws to that base to try to double him off. Remember that when the infield fly rule is invoked, the ball remains live and that runners can advance at their own risk.

One other issue — not in the Holbrook play — might be how high must the ball go for the rule to apply. By rule, no matter how high it goes, a bunt cannot result in an infield fly, nor can a line drive, which is a ball hit with no arc to it. The in-betweeners can, however, be tricky.

There is no way to set a black-white standard, e.g. the ball must have at least 15 feet of arc for it to be an infield fly; instead, it must have substantial arc and be more than a “hump-back” liner.

Holbrook attracted a lot of attention for his call, with scads of so-called experts attacking his judgment. Based on the wording of the rule and the applicable philosophy, however, he was dead right.

And, of course, in the end it was his judgment involved, which is why the league office denied the ensuing protest by the Braves. As a side note, it was good that the league did not remove him from the AL Championship Series. That has been known to happen in all sports at all levels when, correct or incorrect, an official makes a call that attracts widespread attention. Kudos to the powers-that-be for showing some spine!

Jon Bible, Austin, Texas, is a veteran umpire who worked six NCAA Division I College World Series.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 10/16 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Volleyball – Speak The Language


By Pete Acampora

Formal, Informal Signals a Must for Clear, Consistent Rulings

The wide variety of languages used in our world can sometimes be a barrier to effective communication. Many of us have been on a vacation or business trip to a country where English is not widely spoken, and our ability to communicate on a very basic level is sometimes a challenge. Volleyball officials are fortunate to be able to speak with one universal medium — our signals. Signals are the language of officiating.

Even if we travel to diverse areas of the U.S. to officiate, we are understood immediately by the coaches, players and fellow referees, and in most cases, the knowledgeable fans as well. Even those lucky enough to referee in international venues are able to communicate their rulings in a consistent manner and be understood by all participants, simply by using the authorized and appropriate signals. Any of us who have officiated matches where some or all players are deaf know how important it is to communicate utilizing correct officiating signals, even if the referees are not fluent in sign language.

Why, then, do we occasionally encounter an official who tries to communicate with unorthodox, unauthorized or confusing signals? I remember working a match as first referee with a peer who was attempting to give me some information. He was bent over at the waist with his left arm above and across his right forearm with one hand in a fist and the other holding a piece of paper. I did not understand that he was trying to indicate that he wanted a delay sanction assessed. We did discuss the issue during the postgame conversation, but came to no resolution. He was adamant that he was clear in his request and I should have been able to figure out what he wanted.

When I taught a beginning referee course to aspiring officials, I made a concerted effort to teach proper signals and mechanics — beyond just the basic rules of the game. Entry-level officials often have a background as a player or coach, and needed to understand the difference between being the recipient of signals and delivering a message through signals. New referees would be expected to know and properly use the language of officiating the first time they stepped on the court. They had to “speak” the language, not just understand it.

Entry-level referees often question the method of executing a particular signal, and perhaps even suggest a better way. The best explanation? No one person created or modified the signals; they are a product of the evolution of the sport, developing over time and existing at the present time as the universal way to communicate what is happening on the court. Signals are living, breathing and evolving as the game evolves.

Some of the signals we use today differ from similar signals of just a few years ago. Perhaps by understanding the rationale of their evolution, we can appreciate those who make decisions about techniques and their goal to make the signals clearer and easily understood. For example, the basic “point/fault signal” sequence that has been used for several years. A new official might not even realize the evolution of that technique. Currently, referees award the point by extending the arm in the direction of the team to serve next, and then signal the fault; a few years ago, that technique was the exact opposite. At the end of a point, the referees used to signal the fault and then award the point; and, the point signal was executed by raising the index finger on the side of the team winning it.

What changed? Why bother changing the basic signal (or sequence) when both methods communicated who was awarded the point and why? It would seem to me that someone considered that since there are no situations in volleyball when more than one point is awarded, why keep showing that single finger? Simply signaling with an extended arm would produce the same outcome. I also have surmised by speaking with experienced scorers that indicating which team won the point first made it quicker for them to record the result of the play and be ready for the next service. Scorers really don’t need to know why a team was awarded a point, only who won the point.

Other informal yet acceptable signals in common use include the “finger wag” that is often used internationally to informally control behavior. We do not train to use that mechanic because it is considered inappropriate — more like an angry parent to a child. We train to use other body language or informal signals as informal behavioral controls. Another informal signal from the first referee, when not accepting a line judge’s decision, is a “toot-toot” and a tap of his or her chest to indicate “my call.”

There are others, but the point is that use of informal signals developed, like language, through convention, although we would hope our informal signals are logical and consistent, to convey the appropriate message.

Signals should be considered a language and are therefore communication devices that affect all participants — referees, players, coaches, scorers and fans. In any conversation, to be understood, we must choose our words wisely and use correct grammatical form. To be understood properly during any volleyball match we must use the proper, appropriate and authorized signals at the right time in order to convey the exact meaning with no room for misinterpretation.

Pete Acampora of Bronx, N.Y., is a high school, USAV and collegiate referee, director of a summer volleyball day camp and was a longtime USAV and high school boys’ and girls’ volleyball coach.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 10/16 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Features – Eight ways to never get another game


By Tim Sloan

Want to keep your officiating career on track? Here are a few things to avoid.

The pages of Referee often feature the do’s for landing the next big game and breaking into the next level. But equally important to furthering an officiating career is avoiding the don’ts — the things that draw negative attention to ourselves and make it harder to fill our officiating dance card.

For sure, there are “special causes” that can cut back our assignments. Slugging the coach, ratting out the concession stand to the health department or parking in the handicapped spot all come to mind. But let’s examine the laundry list of boneheaded decisions that some of our guild routinely pull — even if they don’t realize it. They embarrass/annoy/piss off our assigners to the point that the Maytag repairman looks like a workaholic in contrast. If you want to spend more time doing less as an official, remember to include some of these gambits in your repertoire:

1. Dump assignments OK, everybody now and then has a work commitment come up on short notice. Hey, sometimes your grandmother dies — but three times? The best assigners know enough to hedge against the unexpected and keep a small stable of super subs, but you don’t want to test their patience and get them writing your name in pencil. Honor your commitments or find another avocation.

2. Double-book yourself Once or twice a year, I see emails — dripping with angst and self-flagellation — from officials who realized they took two games on the same day and have to punt one. Some actually offer the “better” game because it was the second one offered. It can happen, but when “disorganization” becomes a pattern, your growth prospects are about as good as a three-legged zebra’s. A cunning variation of that strategy is accepting a game and then being offered a better assignment for the same day: The perp takes the second with the excuse he or she hasn’t received a contract yet on the original assignment.

3. Make a liar out of Werner Heisenberg The German physicist’s Uncertainty Principle is that there’s a limit to knowing two related properties of a particle at the same time. How, then, do you beg off of the mandatory clinic because you need root canal work but get caught sipping a cold one at the Cubs’ game at the same time? It’s much, much easier to keep the truth straight than lies. If the demands of keeping up your officiating commitments don’t jive with your social life, stop kidding yourself and other people. Choose one or the other.

4. Defraud your assigner
I remember sitting in the locker room one time, 45 minutes before a Thursday night college game, nervously waiting for half the crew to show up. The referee, umpire and back judge were already 75 minutes late when they finally strolled in, already in uniform. Seems the high school game they just worked ran a little long, and traffic was a bear. I also remember the game ending 86-21 and there being three misapplications of rules that I couldn’t talk people into changing. While officiating isn’t important in the grand scheme of things, it should become the only thing in your life once you earn someone’s trust, commit to an assignment and back your car out of the driveway. Nowadays, they talk about dressing one level above your customer in a business meeting; the corollary is treating your assignment with as much commitment as the people playing in it. Give them your best rather than what you have left because your narcissism kicked in again.

5. Be a prima donna When you’re acting the part I described in the previous segment, it’s important not to hire a skywriter to remind people. Be humble and empathize a bit. There’s a difference between being right in how you handle an assignment and being dead right. I once worked a soccer match with a guy who declared that he wasn’t leaving without his game fee. It didn’t matter to him that the team treasurer had been unexpectedly hospitalized and a mailed check had already been promised. So, there were the club chairman and president on their hands and knees, emptying their pockets of crumpled bills and loose change to pay Tony so the rest of us could hit the road. Sure, there are all sorts of subplots to go with anecdotes like that one, but if your pattern becomes being a pain in the rear about your definition of “principles,” either you’re wrong for the league or the league’s wrong for you — and it will only play out one way.

6. Undermine your fellow officials Now, I’m pretty good with computers and know how most of the thingies work for the TV, but I don’t understand Facebook, Twitter and whatever else. Oh, I know what you do with them; I just don’t understand why it’s anybody’s business what music I like or, more to the point, what I thought of the referees in last night’s game at state. Somewhere, too many officials have concluded that criticizing another official is protected speech on social media for which they cannot be held accountable. Maybe it’s “free” — from the perspective that you can’t go to jail for it — but it’s very costly if you think it will help your career. Let’s see: It brings your objectivity into question; it antagonizes prospective partners; it makes your assigner question your motives; and it erases any chance you’ll have for the benefit of the doubt, should you ever need it. Here’s a rule of thumb: If HR might get involved if you said the same thing at work that you just wrote about another official on Facebook, you probably shouldn’t have written it. The officiating community has a way of running off bad eggs.

Be humble and empathize a bit. There’s a difference between being right in how you handle an assignment and being dead right.

7. Be a high-maintenance partner This story, just in: An officiating assignment should be something you look forward to for the game itself, the events surrounding it and the officials with whom you work. Your crewmates should be thinking the same thing. Having said that, the Apollo 11 astronauts — for all their fame — were not a close-knit trio, tending to go their separate ways after work. The Apollo 12 crew, by comparison, was a 24/7 party, right down to their matching gold Corvettes. The Apollo 7 crew alienated themselves so thoroughly the ground controllers mused about having them splash down in a hurricane. A crew — any kind of a crew — can function well together without necessarily even liking each other if they can keep their focus on the prime objective. Make no mistake, however, that crew leaders — any kind of crew leaders — have some say in crew selection. If you’re the type of crewmate who develops a rep — from your toenail clipping to your inflated ego — of grating on others, you will find your opportunities and schedule starting to dwindle.

Let’s see … oh, yes; there’s one other item on the list which bears mention:

8. Suck We can look at most of the previous items on this list as “qualifiers” (or not) to work games. Generally, if you have only limited symptoms of some of the diseases covered, they might be tolerated if you show an ability to part the waters once out between the lines. General Patton wasn’t revered by everyone in the Third Army, but he was good at winning battles, so they went along with him. Hey, many of us played for a coach we loathed, but we finished 9-2 and a lot was forgotten. That being the case, there is no more sure-fire way to ruin a career than by becoming a certified liability. To achieve that, try these time-tested behaviors: Don’t work at the rules. Set aside sanctioned mechanics in favor of your own. Don’t keep up your conditioning. Be a distraction. Let the teams get to you. Let the fans get to you. Let your significant other get to you. Let your pride get to you. Don’t attend clinics because you “won’t learn anything.” Consider your own perspective to be sacrosanct. Don’t consider others better than yourself. Believe it’s more important to protect yourself than to serve the game.

Every event in your officiating career is an experience — whether it’s a positive one or negative is up to you. You start heading down the road to ruin when you make too many experiences negative for you, those around you or your assigner. Most officials who I see fail in some sense have a false and sad sense of entitlement when it comes right down to it. They burn out because the combination of their intellect, athleticism, character and personality isn’t suited to the level they’re trying to work — and they don’t deal with it well. Sometimes that happens in Pop Warner, sometimes in Division II. Whatever the case, if you’re driven by the notion, “It can’t be me,” it tends to lead to behaviors mentioned above, alienating you from all your potential benefactors.

Becoming a better official and thereby improving assignments is a process which takes time to complete and can only be escalated so much. You may not have the tools to reach the level you desire, but you certainly have the ability to make it worse for yourself through poor motives, poor choices and poor actions.

Being hardworking and responsible as an official guarantees nothing, but placing yourself above it all guarantees everything.

Tim Sloan, Davenport, Iowa, is a high school football, basketball and volleyball official, and former college football and soccer official.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 10/16 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – Catch This If You Can


It’s a question fans have debated for years: What’s the hardest thing to do in sports? Hit a baseball? Shoot par in golf? Score a goal in ice hockey? Drive a race car?

Now, there’s another possibility: determining what’s a catch in football.

The challenge is greatest in the NFL, as evidenced by several high-profile plays in recent seasons that have led to head-scratching, outright outrage and rulebook tweaks. Still, the question persists: What’s a catch?

As John Branch of the New York Times wrote, “Where once the catch was football’s version of obscenity — we know it when we see it — it became a play to be dissected from all angles and the slowest possible speeds.”

In other words, paralysis by analysis.

“That’s a good way to put it, but I don’t think the rule is all that complicated,” explained Rogers Redding, CFO national coordinator of football officials. “I think the fact that we can slow everything down now and see a blade of grass up to a gnat’s eyelash has made it more difficult to understand.”

The advent of replay as an officiating tool and advances in technology have helped fuel the debate. “I would say the catch/no catch is in the top two or three for reviews, instant replays and stoppages of the game,” Redding said. “The big ones are scoring plays. Did the ball break the plane of the goalline? Was the ball fumbled? And catch/no catch.”

But as Redding noted, “sometimes it’s all (of those situations) on one play.”

Add the remarkable talents of today’s athletes and you have a mix that often results in confusion and controversy.

Although when it was introduced, replay was not universally embraced by officials, it has become their best friend. “I used to tell the men, ‘Look, if you make a mistake on the field on Sunday afternoon and it’s corrected, you’ll feel a lot better than me making a phone call to you on Tuesday and chewing you out because you blew the call,’” said Art McNally, NFL director of officiating from 1968-91. “Replay has been a help to the officials because the real, real tough catch can be ruled complete or incomplete. That’s the beauty of replay.”

The catch/no catch rule continues to be a hot-button topic among fans, players, coaches and administrators. In fact, the NFL convened a gathering of former and current receivers last winter to discuss the league’s catch rules and to determine whether the rule language needed to be tweaked.

“We had two groups come in,” said Dean Blandino, NFL vice president of officiating, at a meeting of NFL owners in March. “(We invited) former players Cris Carter, Tim Brown, Randy Moss, Steve Largent and Chad Lewis. And we reached out to current players. Jordy Nelson joined us. And then we had a group of former head coaches, front office people and game officials.

The consensus was the rule was adequate (although the 2016 NFL rulebook does include new language that attempts to clarify the rule). “We have to continue to use video and show examples and teach and educate, not just for the media and fans but the coaches and our players and game officials,” Blandino said.


Big Games, Big Calls

One of the NFL’s most famous pass plays, involving Tampa Bay receiver Bert Emmanuel in the playoffs following the 1999 season, resulted in a rule change. The St. Louis Rams were leading, 11-6, with 51 seconds remaining when Tampa Bay quarterback Shawn King hit a diving Emmanuel for an apparent 12-yard gain on a second-and-23 play. However the play was reviewed by referee Bill Carollo. When he noticed that the ball made contact with the turf, Carollo overturned the call. Following two incomplete passes, the Rams took possession and ran out the clock.

“Jerry Markbreit was my replay person, probably the most respected official in the country, and he stopped (the game),” Carollo recalled. “We talked about it and it was clear-cut the ball touched the ground. We ruled it as a trap, that it touched the ground.”

If the same play happened today, Emmanuel would be credited with a catch as the NFL changed the rule before the next season. “From that point on, we allowed the ball to touch the ground, but you had to maintain control,” Carollo explained. “We said ‘OK, if this play happens again, and he doesn’t lose control, we’re going to give him a catch even though it touched the ground.’ So that caused the first rule change and we’ve been trying to tweak what a catch is ever since.”

The controversy surrounding that overturn quickly became personal. Following the contest, Carollo and Markbreit received telephoned death threats. Carollo had to take his children out of school for a few days.

“It was controversial but we were comfortable with that decision,” Carollo said. “To the credit of the NFL, they made a rule change. They thought it probably would be better if that type of play is a catch.

“We were pretty strict … don’t let it hit the ground,” he continued. “Now we’re letting it hit the ground, but don’t lose control. Now we’re going to give you the benefit of the doubt if we feel you’re a runner. That’s true judgment. You can say common sense, but it’s all in the eyes of the beholder. Did he really have it long enough?”

Still another memorable play came in the 2006 NFL playoffs, when the Pittsburgh Steelers upset the Indianapolis Colts. With 5:26 remaining, Troy Polamalu made an apparent diving interception of a Peyton Manning pass, tumbled with it and got up to run. As he rose, Polamalu juggled the ball, but he recovered and was credited with a catch. Colts’ coach Tony Dungy challenged the call. Referee Pete Morelli overturned the call via replay and the Colts maintained possession.

Catch-This-If-You-Can-QuoteThe following day, the NFL announced that Morelli should have let the call on the field stand. Mike Pereira, then the league’s vice president of officiating, said in a statement, “(Polamalu) maintained possession long enough to establish a catch. Therefore, the replay review should have upheld the call on the field that it was a catch.”

Unfortunately, rule changes did not prove to be nirvana. Early in the 2010 season, Detroit’s Calvin Johnson appeared to score the winning touchdown late in a game at Chicago. Johnson leapt, grabbed the ball and came to the ground in the end zone. As Johnson rose, the ball slipped out of his grasp momentarily and replay overturned the call.

A play in the 2014 playoffs is still being debated. Dallas receiver Dez Bryant made an acrobatic play to seemingly catch a pass inside the Green Bay one yardline. But upon rolling over onto his chest, the ball eluded Bryant’s hand. Once again, replay changed the call from catch to no catch.

“When you go to the ground to make the catch you have to hold on to (the ball) throughout that entire process,” Blandino said. “When Dez hits the ground with his left arm, the ball hits the ground.”

A Definite Definition?

So exactly what is a catch?

“The easiest way I can describe the rule is control plus two feet plus time,” Blandino said. “Once we get there (control plus two feet), then we get into the gray area of time.”

The concept of time first showed up in the rulebook in 1938, it was clarified in 1942 and it’s been the basic foundation of the rule since, he explained. “The rulebook definition of time is ‘have the ball long enough to clearly become a runner.’ So what does that mean? That means you have the ability to ward off, avoid contact by a defender and advance the football. That was previously defined as ‘performing an act common to the game.’

“What the time element does is allow the onfield official to rule the bang-bang play incomplete and be more consistent,” Blandino said. “And what we refer to as a bang-bang play is control plus two feet and contact that occurs simultaneous or almost simultaneous (with arrival of the ball). The key part of the rule allows for greater consistency on the field because slow motion replay distorts that time element on the field. Now we’re debating, ‘Did he have it long enough or did he not?’”

High school’s definition of a catch was tweaked in 2013 to address a situation in which a player with a grasp on the ball was pushed or carried out of bounds before coming to the ground. But even with that change, it’s a far simpler rule.

According to the NFHS rulebook, “A catch is the act of establishing player possession of a live ball which is in flight, and first contacting the ground inbounds while maintaining possession of the ball or having the forward progress of the player in possession stopped while the opponent is carrying the player who is in possession and inbounds.”

If you’re thinking that it takes someone with an advanced physics degree to rule on catches, take comfort in knowing even those close to the game aren’t 100 percent certain. Carollo, who is the coordinator of football officials for a consortium of collegiate conferences that includes the Big Ten, gets a small dose of satisfaction when he asks for coaches’ opinions of controversial plays.

“I always take those tough plays, put them on video,” Carollo explained. “I give them the same angle that the covering onfield official has and tell the coaches, ‘OK, you vote. Tell me, is this a catch? Is this a touchdown?’ And they go, ‘Whoa, this is really tough.’”

In his meeting with NFL owners, Blandino admitted as much. “We’re ultimately going to have plays that look like a catch but isn’t by definition of a rule,” he said. “And most often, those are the plays in which a receiver hits the ground with the ball, bobbles it, then it eventually squirts loose.”

Last year, apparent touchdowns involving the Bengals’ Tyler Eifert and Atlanta’s Devonta Freeman were ruled incomplete because they lost a grip on the ball as they were going to the ground. Both calls caused uproars. Eifert’s touchdown was overturned on a fourth-and-one play from Baltimore’s two yardline when he lunged for the goalline. The ball broke the plane of the goalline, but he lost the ball when he hit the ground.

“When we talk about going to the ground, again, it’s control plus two feet plus time,” Blandino said. “If I don’t have that while upright and I’m going to the ground, the standard becomes, hold on to the ball when you land. 

Catch-This-If-You-Can-End-Zone“If he’s not a runner before going to the ground,” Blandino continued, “the requirement becomes, again, survive the ground. So if you’re not a runner prior to going to the ground in the process of making that catch, you must maintain control when you land.”

Carollo agreed. “That’s one of our most difficult calls — understanding exactly when the player transitions from a receiver to a runner,” he said. “It sounds simple. You know what a runner is when he’s going up the middle (on a running play), but (on a pass play) I’m saying there’s a split second of time when you’re not a receiver anymore and now you become a runner.”

“There are many times when a ruling on the field will stand, but we’re not making it a definitive declaration that it’s either a catch or not a catch,” Blandino explained. “We’re saying the evidence doesn’t allow us to make a definitive ruling.”

More Than Catch/No Catch

Making the catch/no catch rule even more difficult to understand is its correlation to another key rule: targeting.

“That’s an important point,” Carollo said. “Everyone loses sight of that. You’re always going to be a receiver and you have to hang on to the ball, but if you catch it, turn and make a football move, change your direction, reach for the goalline, reach for a first down — something other than the process of the catch — we can put you into a runner category. The problem is, if we transition you from a receiver to a runner you lose your protection for targeting (for a high hit).”

“This rule is directly tied to the defenseless player rule,” Blandino added. “So the amount of time required to gain possession is the same amount of time you’re protected as a defenseless receiver. If we shorten that time to gain possession, we’re shortening the time the player is protected from hits to the head and neck area.”

You might say that’s another catch in the rules.

George Hammond is a veteran football official from York, Pa.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 09/16 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Football – Tips for working as the Referee” with legendary white hat Jerry Markbreit

Retired NFL referee Jerry Markbreit, talks about how to determine what is a pass and what is a fumble.

Retired NFL referee Jerry Markbreit, talks about what the referee does when two officials have conflicting calls with one another and won’t back down.

Retired NFL referee Jerry Markbreit, talks about how to sound competent and confident on the microphone.

Retired NFL referee Jerry Markbreit, talks about the importance of rules study and knowing all the penalty enforcements.

Retired NFL referee Jerry Markbreit, talks about what needs to be done as the referee to ensure that the entire crew is on the same page on and out of the field.

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